MY NFL HONORS PICKS for 2017

Annually, the National Football League holds an awards show presented by the Associated Press designed to recognize the league’s best players from the current season.

Voters include a panel of 50 sportswriters and ballots are tallied at the end of the regular season.  The results are announced to the public on the eve before the Super Bowl.

In anticipation of this year’s show, which is slated to air from Minneapolis on Saturday (Feb 3) at 9pm ET on NBC, I jotted down who I thought was worthy of distinction in 2017 (below).

But, before we get into it, I will note my objection about this NFL awards business for the record:

Casting ballots for the league’s best players should be done after the entire season is over, not right after the regular season concludes.

It doesn’t seem like the voters can get a real sense for who is deserved of being honored without the full statistics including the post season.

For instance, how will we really know if a player deserves to be the Most Valuable Player if he doesn’t take his team to the playoffs?

Or, what if a player up for MVP consideration gets injured in the post season, and his replacement goes on to help his team win the Super Bowl?

Take the Eagles QB situation. If Carson Wentz blew out his knee in Jan (rather than Dec like he did) and his replacement Nick Foles takes the team all the way to the Super Bowl and wins, it would prove that Wentz really wasn’t worthy of the MVP Award.  Someone else would have picked up the baton and brought it across the finish line.  But, he is high on many experts lists for this award based on his performance in the regular season alone.

A better example of how this NFL Honors process is flawed: What if Eagles Head Coach Doug Pederson outsmarts Bill Belichick in Super Bowl 52 and because of his coaching, his team beats the Patriots?  To outmaneuver the greatest coach in all of sports when he’s going for his 6th Super Bowl Championship would be one of the best coaching performances of all time. Yet, voters are not be able to consider this type of situation, because balloting is completed in January.

I’m only speculating here, but I think one of the reasons that deliberations for NFL Honors are capped to the regular season is so that the league can hold its annual awards show the night before the Super Bowl.   It’s a good time to celebrate when visibility is so high.

So, my suggestion is that these Honors should really indicate what they truly are: accolades to the best players during “the regular season”, not “the year”.

OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR – ALVIN KAMARA

This was a really close contest for me between Saints RB Alvin Kamara and Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt.

Both rookies were incredible their first year in the league and proved to be major assets to their teams.  But, Kamara’s diversity edged Hunt for me.

While Hunt won the rushing title of the year with 1,327 total rushing yards on 272 attempts (over all RBs) AND had 53 receptions and 455 receiving yards for a total of 1782 scrimmage yards and 11 total TDs, Kamara’s talents were spread out to rushing, receiving and kick returning.

Kamara was so good in all those areas, he became the first rookie since Gale Sayers in 1965 to score 5 receiving TDs, 5 rushing TDs and a kickoff return TD, plus collect 1,500+ yards in a season (16 games).

Check out his stats for 2017:

  • Rushed for 728 total yards on 120 attempts (8 TDs);
  • Had 81 receptions and 826 receiving yards (5 TDs);
  • Returned the kick 11 times for 347 yards (1 TD);
  • Totaled: 1,901 yards, 14 TDs, and 118 yards/game.

Pro Football Focus also graded Kamara 90.2 overall and chose him as the #2 RB in the league last year while Hunt finished #3 with an overall grade of 89.0.

PFF additionally listed Kamara as “the most elusive RB (108.5 rating) with a missed tackle forced once every 3.5 touches and an average of 3.8 yards after contact.”

On top of that, Kamara had the most Yards Per Carry on 1st down runs among RBs and holds the Saints franchise record for kickoff return TD (106 yards).

One more thing: Kamara did all of this with a slow start.  Adrian Peterson was with New Orleans the first 4 games of the season before being traded to Arizona, so Kamara did not get as many touches until after Peterson was gone.

Meanwhile, Hunt struggled midseason and had 9 straight games without a TD and 7 games without breaking the 100-yard mark before making a resurgence.

A solid third place in this category was Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette.  He was a great addition for his team as well and had 268 rushing attempts for 1,040 yards and 9 TDs, plus 36 receptions for 302 receiving yards, 1 TD.

Plus, Fournette amassed those numbers in only 13 games and had 5+ games in which he had 24+ rushing attempts.  Hunt didn’t even do that. (Had 4 games with 24+ rushing attempts and one 29 attempt game).

To say it was an outstanding running back class of 2017 is an understatement.

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR – TODD GURLEY

I went for another multi-talented running back in this category.  The 6-1, 227 lbs., 23-year-old third-year Rams RB Todd Gurley.

In 15 games, he had 279 carries for 1,305 yards (13 TDs) and 64 receptions for 788 yards (6 TDs).  All told, he led the league in yards from scrimmage (2,093) and TDs (19).

Gurley was also named to the Pro Bowl, selected as a first-team All Pro, was awarded Offensive Player of the Year by Pro Football Writers (PFWA) and PFF graded him the highest amongst all RBs by season’s end (91.9).

Statistics aside, Gurley was instrumental in the success of the Rams this season and really set the pace for the offense all year.  His versatility and ability to extend plays helped his team become the league’s highest-scoring offense and gave the defense time to rest.

Some of the Ram’s players also gave Gurley credit for providing “a spark” because he had been so consistently good that they were inspired by his performances week in, week out.  And, this is an essential reason why I think he deserves this award.  Gurley’s outstanding play influenced others on the entire team which directly helped in LA’s transformation and rise.

Essential to this argument is to witness his improvement after a season in which Gurley struggled.  In 2016, he never rushed for more than 85 yards per game, only tallied 1,212 yards from scrimmage, and had 6 TDs (total).

What has made the difference beyond better performances by his QB and Offensive Line is clear improvement in Gurley’s patience and confidence in his natural athletic abilities (fast, strong, explosive – rare attributes all found together in a back).

Of course, Patriots QB Tom Brady has to be considered in this category as well.  Yet again, he helped New England finish atop the AFC East with a 13-3 record due to his outstanding performance.

He had the most passing yards in the league last year (4,577), the 3rd most passing TDs (32), 102.8 passer rating, the 2nd most completions (385) and 3rd best QBR (behind Wentz & Keenum) and only registered 8 interceptions.

I also considered the tremendous year Pittsburgh’s elite wideout Antonio Brown had in 2017.  In 14 games, he had 101 receptions, 1,533 receiving yards, 9 TDs and averaged 109.5 yards per game.  Unfortunately, an injury prior to Week 15 sidelined him the last 2 games of the season.  He was on track to possibly win the MVP and/or this award.

Philadelphia QB Carson Wentz is another player that had a shot at this award before he blew out his knee during Week 14’s contest versus LA.  In 2 less games than Brady, he scored more TDs (33) and had only 7 interceptions.  And, he finished with the best total QBR of the season (75.7) over all QBs in the regular season.   Wentz also inspired his team with his marked improvement from his first year.

COACH OF THE YEAR – BILL BELICHICK

Last January and then at 30 years old, Sean McVay became the youngest head coach in league history.  Within one year, he’s completely turned the Los Angeles Rams around and it’s the reason he will probably win the Coach of the Year award on Saturday.

In 2016, the Rams had the worst total offense, scored the least amount of points, had the least TDs, were the 2nd worst rushing and passing offenses and finished 4-12 in the NFC West.

In 2017, under McVay’s reign, the Rams had the highest scoring offense, scored the most points per game and the 2nd most TDs.  Their passing and rushing offenses also both finished in the top 10.  The team also went 11-5 and won the division.

McVay also turned around his QB Jared Goff’s career in a matter of months.  The No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL draft struggled mightily under former Rams head coach Jeff Fisher and in only 7 games last season finished with an 0-7 record, and only had 5 TDs to his 7 Interceptions.

But in 2017, Goff competed in 15 games, finished with an 11-4 record, had 28 TDs to 7 Interceptions, a 100.5 passer rating and led the Rams to the NFC West Division title.

So, to sum, in 1 year, McVay did what Fisher couldn’t do in 5 seasons: Revamp and stabilize the offense, helped balance the defense, win the division, and go to the playoffs for the first time since 2003.

The Eagles’ Doug Pederson deserves consideration for COY as well.  In only his second year, Philadelphia finished 13-3 and won their division after finishing 7-9 in his year 1.  Pederson was instrumental in this success by helping along the quick development of his young 2nd year QB (Carson Wentz) and steering the team so brilliantly despite devastating injuries to key personnel.

Then there’s Bill Belichick, the Patriots head coach who should win this award, in my book.  In the 18 years since he has been New England’s head coach, his team has finished 1st in the division 15 times, and won 5 Super Bowls in 7 tries.

This past year, he once again is taking his team to the Super Bowl for the 8th time after they finished 13-3 in the AFC East.  His 2017 team also finished first in total offense and his defense, which started out shaky, has quietly evolved into one of the league’s best in stopping opponents in the red zone.

Ironically, Belichick hasn’t won a Coach of the Year award since 2010.  Maybe voters are getting too complacent about him, because they expect excellence every year.

So, when other guys like McVay and Pederson come along and reconstruct their teams so magnificently, they stand out more than just another winning year by Belichick.

But, maybe it’s time we give Coach more props.  Brady is probably going to get MVP.  Belichick should get his due as well.  He is just as vital to the continued success of the Patriots as Brady has been.  After all, as good as McVay was, he isn’t going to the Super Bowl like Belichick is.

And, as mentioned previously, if Pederson beats Belichick in the Super Bowl, he should be the COY hands down.

Oh yeah, this is about the regular season.  Silly me.

DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR – MARSHON LATTIMORE

There are really only 2 frontrunners for this contest in my mind, and they are Marshon Lattimore, rookie CB for the Saints and the Bills rookie CB Tre’Davious White.

Many experts appear to be leaning towards Lattimore, but White’s stats stick out too, partly due to the fact that he played in all 16 games while Lattimore suited up for only 13 due to injuries.  However, Lattimore was more vital to his team’s success and one of the main reasons the Saints made such a turnaround on defense last season.

The first-round draftee out of Ohio State had the playmaking abilities to contribute towards the improvement of the pass defense, in particular.  New Orleans’ secondary went from the worst in 2016 to 15th against the pass last year because of Lattimore’s skill in man-to-man coverage.  He defended 18 passes (led the team), had 5 interceptions (led the team), 52 combined tackles (43 solo), 1 TD and 1 forced fumble.

Also, Lattimore led all rookies with 5 interceptions (White had 4), became the youngest player ever elected to the Pro Bowl (21 years old), won Defensive Rookie of the Week four times and Defensive Rookie of the Month twice this season.

Meanwhile, White had 69 tackles (53 solo), 18 passes defended, 4 interceptions and a forced fumble.  PFF also graded him the #2 CB in the league with a 92.0 grade.  (Lattimore scored #5 best CB and 90.5 grade.)

But, despite the fact that White was a big reason the Bills made the post season for the first time in 17 years, his tremendous performance was eclipsed by the value others brought to the team and he even missed out on the Pro Bowl this season because of it.

If Lattimore and Kamara do bring home both Rookie of the Year awards, it’ll be the first time in 50 years one team took both awards since Detroit did it in 1967 (RB Mel Farr & CB Lem Barney).

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR – CALAIS CAMPBELL

The overwhelming favorite of this category, for me anyways, was the big DE from Jacksonville, Calais Campbell.  Standing 6’8 and 300 lbs., the 31-year-old newly acquired free agent had his best career year in his first with the Jags.

In 16 games, Campbell had 67 tackles (47 solo), 14.5 sacks, 3 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles and a TD, 9 tackles for a loss and fumble recovery for a TD.  His next closest performance year was in 2013 when he had 9 sacks and 58 tackles.  His 14.5 sacks is a franchise record and the 4-sack performance he had in game 1 versus Houston is a first for Jax as well.

It’s pretty incredible that in his 10th year in the league, Campbell goes out and has his best year like he did in 2017.  It set the tone and his leadership carried forth into the rest of the defense.  He was instrumental in helping Jax become the 2nd best ranked defense in the league, and finish 10-6 after a year in which the previously woeful Jags ended up 3-13 and last in the division.

No denying that the real-life Mayor of his football city had it right in proclaiming Campbell “Mayor of Sacksonville” late last year.  Some even think he was the best free agent signing in NFL history (4 year, $30 million).

Another player that excelled and should be mentioned is Chandler Jones, OLB for the Cardinals.  This 27-year-old out of Syracuse was outstanding in his 2nd year with Arizona.  He had the most sacks overall (17), 59 tackles (52 solo), 3 passes defended and 2 forced fumbles.  It’s a shame his team was only mediocre and overshadowed in their division (8-8), or Chandler would receive more attention for his performance this season.

I was also impressed with the Chargers DE Joey Bosa.  In only his 2nd year with San Diego, the 22-year-old recorded 70 tackles (54 solo), 12.5 sacks, 1 passed defended and 4 forced fumbles.  Also, during the season, he set an NFL record for recording his 19th career sack through the first 20 games as a pro.

It’s safe to say that this 2016 Defensive Rookie of the Year will be back in this conversation very soon..

COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR – KEENAN ALLEN

Probably the most impressive comeback in 2017 was by this 25-year-old Chargers wideout in his 5th season with the club.  He became the 5th best WR according to PFF in 2017 when he had 102 receptions (4th most) for 1,393 yards (3rd best) and averaging 87.1 yards per game (4th best) with 6 TDs.

Keenan Allen also converted the most 3rd downs, had a 72.5% 1st down percentage (3rd best amongst the elite receivers) and after Week 10 on led the league in receiving yards.  He was also named to his first Pro Bowl, and from Week 11 to Week 13 became the first player in league history to record 3 consecutive games of 10+ catches, 100+ receiving yards and 1+ TD.

In addition, Allen’s performance in 2017 was integral in helping the Chargers make a comeback of their own and finish the season 9-7 and 2nd in the AFC West Division, after coming in last place in 2016 with a 5-11 record.

This was an impressive resurgence, given that Allen missed all of the second half of 2015 with a kidney injury and during the season-opener in 2016 suffered a season-ending ACL tear.

For me, these accomplishments beat out what veteran Seahawk FS Earl Thomas was able to do when almost every other veteran on his defense went out due to injury.

After his 2016 season was cut short due to a broken leg, Seattle’s defense wasn’t the same and suffered while Thomas was out.  He admitted that he even contemplated retirement during this time.  But, when he came back to start 2017 “even stronger than he was before”, the team felt the difference with Thomas back immediately.  He went on to finish the year with 88 tackles (56 solo), 7 passes defended, 2 interceptions for 97 yards, 1 TD and 1 forced fumble.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER – TOM BRADY

An overwhelming favorite for this category has to be the 40-year QB of the New England Patriots, Tom Brady.  It can’t be denied what he has been able to accomplish at 40-years of age and in his 18th season with the league, considering the average age of an NFL player is 26.6.

In 2017 and 16 games, Brady had 385 completions in 581 attempts (66.3%), passed for 4,577 yards (the most), had 32 TDs and 8 interceptions for a passer rating of 102.8. And, he was sacked 35 times.  It was the first time a QB had 32+ TD passes and 13 wins at 40+ years old.

Obviously, his talent was a strength and helped the Patriots finish 13-3 and 1st in the division.  But, Brady also brought to the table his tremendous leadership and preparedness which other players like fellow Patriots WR Danny Amendola said was important to the team all year long.  During his Super Bowl 52 interview with the press on Thursday, he said, “[Tom] does a lot for the team other than play well”.  He continued by saying Brady’s confidence influenced them and this is the reason he will be likely win the MVP this year.

It’s not to say that Todd Gurley wasn’t influential on the Rams.  As outlined above, LA’s premiere RB gave a spark to his offense, but this category has been won by a QB in 9 of the last 10 seasons.  And, it will likely happen again this year.  If so, it’ll be Brady’s third MVP award in his career.

Other players worthy of consideration for MVP also includes Eagles QB Carson Wentz and Steelers WR Antonio Brown, but I think Brady is a lock once again.

 

 

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